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Spectacular MCMVII High Relief Twenty
1907 $20 High Relief PR67 NGC. Augustus Saint-Gaudens'
magnificent High Relief double eagle has long been acknowledged as
the most beautiful U.S. coin designed for circulation. While the
subject of proof High Reliefs has been hotly contested over the
years, most experts today are convinced that a small number of
extraordinary specimens meet the criteria for proof status. The
subject is complex and can be confusing, because the proofs were
produced in different formats and at different times as the Mint
experimented with Saint-Gaudens' new design. As Walter Breen said
in 1977, "Proofs were evidently made on several occasions for
presentation purposes, from more than one of the pairs of dies used
for this issue, with two different edge collars, and in several
Rare Superb Gem Proof, Wire Rim
The earliest appearances of proof High Reliefs trace their origins to the collection of Chief Engraver Charles Barber, whose controversial role in the production of Saint-Gaudens' design is well documented elsewhere. The first auction appearance of the issue was in the Adolphe Menjou Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 6/1950), lot 1846. According to the lengthy lot description, the coin was obtained from "the widow of a gentleman associated with the Mint in 1907." The cataloger further states that two High Relief proofs were purchased from the lady, and these were "the only two proof specimens that have come to our attention."
One year later a proof High Relief was offered in the ANA Sale (Jim Kelly, 8/1951), lot 770A. In his lot description Kelly offered considerable information about the identity of the gentleman associated with the Mint:
"Acknowledged as the most beautiful United States coin, it has always been very popular with collectors as well as noncollectors. However, with all its popularity, there has always been a mystery surrounding Proofs of this issue. Only one specimen has been offered at public sale, Lot No. 1846 in the Menjou Sale.
"With due respect to the cataloguer, I believe I am publishing for the first time the correct history and number of these coins struck. Mr. Newcomer, the famous numismatist, purchased these coins from the Barber Collection. Mr. Barber was one of the head engravers at the Mint during this period. There was a note with these coins stating that 'There were only five pieces struck on a medal press.'
"I am indebted to Mr. Wayte Raymond for this information. He purchased all five pieces when he bought the Newcomer Collection."
The fact that the coins came from Barber's collection should dispel any doubt about the coin's proof status. As chief engraver of the Mint, Barber would certainly understand the criteria for a proof coin, and he knew the circumstances of the coin's production better than anyone else. Breen points out the fact that there are considerably more than five specimens of proof High Relief double eagles known today, but Barber may have meant that only five specimens were struck at the particular time when this group of coins was created.
Breen reports the coin in Kelly's description was made using edge collar 1, distinguished by the level bases of the M in UNUM. Research by proof gold specialist Dr. Robert Loewinger indicates that examples produced with this collar are of the Flat Rim variety. Only six Flat Rim High Reliefs have been certified as of this writing. If only one of the recorded submission events is a resubmission, the number of specimens certified would coincide exactly with the number Barber reports struck. Barber may well have given an accurate account of the striking of the Flat Rim High Reliefs in his note.
The present coin is of the more available Wire Rim variety. As with all High Relief proofs, the design elements are sharply delineated. The central detail is crisp, and the peripheral elements are razor-sharp. All berries are discernibly rounded, and the eight Capitol pillars are countable. The surfaces are pristine, with bright yellow-gold color, and even, satiny luster. Numerous swirling die-polish lines are evident on both sides. This example is one of the finest survivors of the most celebrated coin issue of the 20th century and is a deserving candidate for a Registry Set. Census: 11 in 67, 3 finer (11/10). (NGC ID# 28AX, PCGS# 9132)
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Revised Edition by James L. Halperin, Mark R. Borckardt, Mark Van Winkle, Jon Amato, and Gregory J. Rohan, with special contributor David W. Akers
The Coinage of Augustus Saint-Gaudens is an issue-by-issue examination of these two artistically inspired series of gold coins.
Each date and mintmark is reviewed with up-to-date information, much of which has never been previously published. The book is based on
two extraordinary collections: The Phillip H. Morse collection and the Dr. and Mrs. Steven L. Duckor collection.
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